In May of 2007, I began my current job as a college counselor and academic advisor. I was excited to work with college students after having spent the previous three years counseling in a high school setting (also known as "changing schedules" and "mounds of paperwork"). Learning a new job, however, is legitimate cause for anxiety. Although I had previous experience with college students, I was eager to do a great job, as this particular job was exactly what I had been wanting to do for years.
Very soon after I started, we hired an intern. My boss gave her the responsibility to start a new program for women, one that would help them learn leadership skills for use in running student organizations or obtaining leadership positions on campus. For some reason, he asked her to work with me. Not only did I have no idea where to start, I did not believe I was qualified to help coordinate a women's leadership program. I did not think of myself as a leader, and I never really liked being around groups of women. Many women have been socialized to believe that we are catty, dramatic, hypersensitive, and competitive. I felt the burden of having to change that belief while continually experiencing it firsthand. I was also learning my way around the college and wanted to be firmly planted in my own job duties before starting a new program. I was very skeptical about taking part in starting this new program, yet something about working with a women's leadership program intrigued me. In the past, I'd had the opportunity to co-facilitate a young women's support circle, and spent time mentoring young women individually both at work and outside of work. I wrote my Master's thesis about middle school girls' perceptions of body image and self-esteem. I was even the advisor of the high school girls' step team where I'd been a counselor. Somehow, I always seemed to find myself working with groups of young women, so although I struggled with the idea of starting this women's leadership program, I was unconsciously drawn to it.
The program became known as the Women's Leadership Institute, or WLI. During the first year, the program was primarily run by our intern, but I attended the sessions, provided planning ideas and support, and assisted in recruiting the first class of participants. We planned development sessions for the ladies, as well as networking opportunities. The idea took off, the college gave us support, and we became an entity. At the end of the intern's contract, it was assumed that I would be taking over the coordination of WLI with a team of women chosen from the Institute's first class. With the previous year's experience as well as my own interest in providing support for the young women, I instituted a support component to WLI, known as Woman II Woman. Since WLI development sessions only took place once a month, the Woman II Woman sessions were meant to bring the young women together more often, but in an informal setting. We talked about relationships, stress, our fathers (or lack thereof), we wrote letters to past or future selves (for my letter, click here), and we had fun. Anything that we felt was relevant to us as women was a topic for conversation. We truly became a cohesive, supportive sisterhood through Woman II Woman.
WLI is now in its fourth year, and if I had one word to describe it, both as a program and as an experience, that word would be: TRANSFORMING. I've heard young women say that WLI has changed their lives; that it saved them; that if it wasn't for WLI they would not have had a positive social network. I've seen the transformation in so many young women, and I look forward to incorporating the new class of 2011 into our sisterhood. WLI now has over 60 graduates. Each of these young women is making a difference, using her skills and the confidence she has developed to change lives.
We're not perfect; we are in a process. We are moving towards being women of strength, courage, power, and love. What began as a doubt and a struggle has truly propelled me towards my dream. I never knew how passionate I was about empowering young women to love themselves so much that their love would overflow and pour out on all those whom they come into contact with. I've discovered my love, my passion, and my dream. Women's Leadership Institute is not just a program; it's a movement. Move with me. Dream with me.